Ceci N'est Pas Une Bong

This is like the 21st century version of "Who's on first?" Any resemblance of the clerk to Abbott or Costello is strictly coincidental.

Posted by mezzrow at November 16, 2009 2:31 PM

Like Wow man.You lost me somewhere around the part where you can't call a bong a bong.Hey someone wanna get me a brew an pass da joint.I gotta think about this awhile.

Posted by patrick hegarty at November 16, 2009 3:25 PM

Didn't Cheech Marin end up doing time for calling a bong a bong?

I know it's silly, but it isn't the fault of the "smoke shops." It's the fault of the law.

One cannot refer to pot or marijuana, either, in such places: it's "the material."

Posted by Little Miss Attila / Joy McCann at November 16, 2009 3:39 PM


I bought my first bon...I mean waterpipe, at Off the Wall at the tender age of 17. They were rather simpler instuments then. Got my first Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers comic as well. The name of the store had slipped my mind but I remember the manakin with the gas mask.

I had a gas mask modified into a bon...I mean...whatever, around this time. I once had it strapped on tight while driving a '62 VW Microbus when the California border station took us by surprise but that's another story.

Posted by westsoundmodern at November 16, 2009 4:39 PM

So funny! You write so well, I could just see that sulky girl "helping" you.

Posted by retriever at November 16, 2009 4:51 PM

It's the same here in CA. Some of the shops even sell fancy ass herbal smoke blends that look just like cannabis in the bag. But you can't buy a bong. You can buy all manner of ridiculous smoking apparatus, but everything has to be called a water pipe for tobacco. Or you can't buy it.


Posted by jwm at November 16, 2009 5:51 PM

But in the movies and Freak Brothers comix, it's always the tight-assed conservative who's hung up the right label and the free wheeling hippy who humorously and happily bends the conservative's straight and narrow brain into frustrating knots. Damn hippies can't get anything right.

Posted by Harry at November 16, 2009 6:22 PM


Well told.

Posted by at November 16, 2009 6:50 PM

If you had really wanted to be a jerk about the whole thing, you could have stayed and called the bongs, bongs until she actually called the cops, if, that is she would really call the cops.

You might even be able to create a rift in space-time that way.

Posted by Fat Man at November 16, 2009 8:10 PM

Yup. You've been there. Home sweet home.

Posted by Pbird at November 16, 2009 8:33 PM

Ask Tommy Chong why it's like this.

Posted by Rob Thompson at November 16, 2009 8:47 PM

Very Lileks in tone if not topic.

"Well, if I filled those 'waterpipes' over there with beer instead of water, could I call them a bong then?"

Really wish I'd been there for that one.

Dave's not here man.

Posted by ThomasD at November 16, 2009 9:03 PM

"Stephen is observing this whole exchange with a deeply bemused but befuddled look on his face."

Bemused and befuddled mean pretty much the same thing.

Posted by marybeth at November 16, 2009 9:12 PM

I wonder what the clerk would have thought if you had left her a copy of "The Wedding Vows"? Goths and Seattle slackerdom seem like small beer compared to those days.

Posted by mrp at November 16, 2009 9:25 PM

I'm betting what that mannequin you saw in the store window was wearing was actually a, "Grass Mask." Me and a bud had those back when I was in college, and this is the mid/late 70's I'm talking about. Also, it's been considered proper head shop etiquette to refer to bongs as water pipes since that time too.

What started this? Glad you asked. THE LAW. Since selling, "drug paraphernalia" *spit* was illegal, people had to pretend that the devices were made for tobacco.

So, don't blame the college pot culture for this ridiculous kabuki show, blame lawyers, judges, and your representatives in congress and the senate (Who are, not coincidentally, almost all lawyers too).

BTW: If pot was legal, I think "Off the Wall" would be an awesome franchise opportunity. Think of all the jobs, "created or saved"! That would be a, "Change I Could Believe In."

Posted by Hucbald at November 16, 2009 10:57 PM

I found out you can't call a bong a bong the same way you did, but as best I can recall, that was 20 years ago. In Calif., you can't call marijuana marijuana or pot in a Medical Marijuana Dispensary either, you have to call it "medicine."

Posted by Sara (Pal2Pal) at November 17, 2009 12:00 AM

I'm reminded of the classic "Five Easy Pieces" diner scene.

Posted by Five Easy Pieces at November 17, 2009 12:30 AM

Dope will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no Dope.

Or do we need to call it Waterpipe Fuel now?

Umm . . . . Naw. "Dope" is still okay. Everyone will assume you're talking about that clerk.

Posted by bobby b at November 17, 2009 3:26 AM

Yes, Big Daddy, yes. And I'm betting the Whippet dispenser was only labelled for whipping cream, too. Lou Reed said those were different times, and I for one believe him.

Posted by dr kill at November 17, 2009 5:23 AM

Obviously a member of the Thought Police. Good thing you didn't ask if she had a room available.

Posted by mojo at November 17, 2009 8:36 AM

What's up with paying for a bong? You can get a large drink cup from just about any fast-food joint or convenience store along with two straws. Make sure the cup is only about half full, then put both straws through the lid, one straw going all the way into the liquid, the other straw ending in mid-air under the lid. If wanted, seal around the straws with ordinary chewing gum, and voila! Instant Bong!

Oops, I shouldn't have posted this here, as now the narcos will try to ban drinking cups, lids, straws, and chewing gum as "drug paraphenalia."

A Nonny Mouse

Posted by A Nonny Mouse at November 17, 2009 9:06 AM

I can just hear the call to the fuzz.

"Yes officer. He was calling our water pipes bongs. And he won't leave. If you don't get him out of our store ASAP we could get busted for selling bongs."

Posted by M. Simon at November 17, 2009 9:31 AM

"They're not bongs they're waterpipes" rule was in effect in NY at least as far back as the 80's - as others have said, it's due to The Man, not the store owners.

Posted by Ben at November 17, 2009 10:31 AM

Anonny Mouse: Interestingly enough, I just read a story with an improvised lung-inflation device that exactly resembles that. So now I know that if somebody gets a punctured lung in a bong shop, the tools to hand to fix it are right there...

Posted by B. Durbin at November 17, 2009 1:31 PM

Marybeth: Bemused and befuddled can have the same meaning (see bemuse definition #1 on merrian-webster.com). However, I prefer defintion #3 of bemused, which has a different meaning than befuddled, to wit: amused, which seems much more applicable given the circumstances in which our two characters find themselves. Befuddled means confused.

Sometimes it is amusing to confuse someone else, and I supposed you could be amused if you were confused, but it is equally possible that you could be either bemused or befuddled without being the other.

Thank you for this opportunity to quibble.

Posted by Charles Pergiel at November 17, 2009 4:58 PM

Didn't Off the Wall close down? Did they move? Obviously I haven't been on an Ave stroll in some time.

Posted by The Chad at November 17, 2009 5:28 PM

Now that's some funny stuff!! Great article.

Posted by Kirby at November 17, 2009 6:38 PM

Try shopping for dildos sometime, it's equally bizarre.

They don't sell rubber shlongs, they sell adult massaging devices!

Posted by Daphne at November 18, 2009 6:33 PM

Who needs to go shopping anymore? Since you asked this question about 3 years ago, Daphne, we are now bombarded with commercials on television for the 'devices'.

Posted by Jewel at May 29, 2012 6:53 AM

Ha. I buy cheap smokes sometimes in shop in Everett that has more bongs than Off The Wall, I think. Also, the Arab that runs the place doesn't care if I call them bongs. Wonder why that shop is to tender about it?

Posted by pbird at May 29, 2012 7:19 AM

I prefer the Shorey bookstore anyway. But yes, the coffee house used to be where people would gather and discuss, to talk. Now they ignore each other and stare at screens.

Still good coffee in the Northwest though.

Posted by Christopher Taylor at May 29, 2012 9:34 AM

Uh, I think you will find that bong is masculine, in French, not feminine; un bong, then, not une bong. Glad to be of help.

Posted by Everyman at May 29, 2012 10:30 AM

Thank you. Now, with your copious amount of spare time, go fuck yourself.

Posted by vanderleun at May 29, 2012 1:10 PM

Someone may have already posted this, so my apologies: The details of the recent zombie-like incident of the Florida man chewing off the face of another man this past week are starting to emerge. It's been reported that "bath salts" may be involved; some kind of mix of spa product that is sold by head shops and snorted as a drug.

Like your story of the bong shop in the U District, shoppers are asked to leave these shops if they refer to "bath salts" as a drug. Watch this smiley-faced shop manager as she repeatedly tries to insist that "bath salts" are bath salts.


Posted by Jeannie at May 30, 2012 7:01 AM

Scary shop manager Angie Turner needs to have her little head examined in that clip.

Posted by vanderleun at May 30, 2012 7:47 AM

Yeah, it's a legal thing. Legal to sell water pipes, but not bongs because bongs are "drug paraphernalia."

Ran into the same thing in a shop in Tucson, where they enforce the rule extravagantly. I guess I would too, if one ill-chosen word from somebody else could get me the Tommy Chong treatment.

Posted by Joel at May 30, 2012 8:36 AM